July 2004

July 31, 2004 - De'Ja Blue...

Comments: "Blue Moon... You saw me standing alone. Without a dream in my heart... Without a love of my own."

Oh, hi there. You're back again, eh? Yeah. It's just me out here in the dark and having a cup of coffee before I leave for work. Nah. I don't have the telescope out tonight... To be honest with you, I'm tired and I don't really care any more. Tonight is the "Blue Moon", though... And it doesn't bother me to just sit outside here and watch for awhile.

"Blue Moon... You knew just what I was there for. You heard me saying a prayer for... Someone I could really care for."

Pretty, isn't it? I like singing this song. I've heard a thousand different interpretations of it, but I like my own... Slow, low and smokey. Nah. I didn't feel like taking the camera out tonight either. I seem to recall last time I was on "vampyre" doing this shot, and it's pretty good. I don't think it's gonna' turn to gold, though. It looks sorta' silver from my end. Of course, in a few hours, given the heat haze, it's gonna' look pretty gold. Hopefully I can take a break before dawn and walk out and look at it, huh? Yeah. Phat chance. You saw what I've got to do tonight, didn't you? Ah, well... It keeps the bills paid and keeps me out of trouble.

Well, I better head. It's been grand talking to you and the month of July has certainly been interesting. You have a safe trip, and I'll try to dodge the deer this time, ok? Perhaps there will be a warm and quiet night here real soon and we'll spend some quality time together. And maybe we'll just go out and horse around, huh? Either way sounds fine with me.

Wake me in the morning.

"I need my serenity."

July 29, 2004 - The Sun and the "Ashland Library Project"...

Comments: Just a little sunshine today. To be honest with you, I had to chase what observations I could manage through brief holes in the clouds. Why bother, then? Because Michaelson-Doppler Imaging was showing that AR652 was directly on the limb and I was curious as to how it would look.

To make a long story short, I set up my imaging equipment (boy, doesn't that sound official? how about i put the scope on the deck and plugged the wire into the VCR? ;) and prepared to capture the exiting monster. Ahem. What monster? There's two very ordinary spots central on the meridian, but I sure don't see... Hold on a sec. Yep. Right there. There it is. As you can see, what was left of 652 didn't even warrant the storage space it would take to give you an illustration. No great field of faculae. No Wilson Effect distortion. Just a tiny, little, dark "nip" on the edge was all that was left. And so we bid our latest "bad boy"?


Of course, that wasn't all I had planned for the day. A long time ago, the Richland Astronomical Society had set up an engagement to give an astronomy program at the Ashland Public Library. Astronomy with these clouds? Surely you jest. But being the person that I am, I packed up the little Orion, solar filter, and a few odds and ends that I use to give public programs and set out on the long drive east. Arriving at the Library, I was sure feeling like the lone ranger, but I had a very good time talking with the reference librarian. Quite an enthusiastic gentleman! Of course, smiles beget smiles, and we quickly had everything organized in a very nice public meeting room with fast access to the outdoors should the weather cooperate.

I kept watching the clock and sure hoping that I wasn't going to be giving an astronomy program to an empty room. (well, not quite empty. ;) Right at the wire, Mike showed up and I heard them announce the program on the PA system. One by one, the people began to trickle in and watched the "Ring World" program so kindly provided to me by NASA. By the time Mike had started the introduction, I saw a couple of more faces out there that I knew and not long after I took "center stage"... The one face that I had been waiting for. Smiling at all the people, I knew we were good to go now.

What was our program about? You name it. Give me one hour to cram as much astronomy knowledge as I can into you, and I will give you six weeks of basic principles. Give me one "straight A" astronomy student in the front row who wants me to go deeper than what everyone else can comprehend? And I'll give you a smiling ~T that says to meet me out back after the show. Give me one interested face? And I'll pique it. Give me one raised hand? And I'll answer it. Give me your time? And I will give you the Cosmos...

My librarian was happily snapping away pictures of the laughing, interactive crowd and we smile and wave at him as Pluto and I head off down the hallway. I'm very glad our little presentation has caused such a "stir" at the quiet library! We journey the Universe at "Light Speed", identify cosmic sounds, touch other worlds, and learn through spectra about how we study the stars in depth. While I stop to catch my breath and re-group, Mike displays a telescope and tells the basics of how they function... And we are off again! This time with a "bird's eye view" of what it's like to see through a scope, and what you are seeing. Needless to say, the hour passed very quickly and when things drew things to a close, I was happy to see the audience wasn't ready to leave. Now that means a job well done! A few did at last leave, but many did not. I am proud of the members of the RAS who attended and helped field the many conversations that went on afterward.

The beaming librarian took my hand and took me aside to offer his congratulations - and even the security guard told me how much he enjoyed "over hearing" the program. Another gentleman stopped and wanted my e.mail address to stay in touch, and yet another told me he had never seen any one move at 186,000 miles per second like that! (light speed, baby... if you want to catch me? you've gotta' be fast. ;) It was all very grand, but I wanted nothing more than to just go out and sit on the wall with you for awhile. I cannot be happier that the program turned out to be such a success for the RAS and Warren Rupp Observatory. It was a much needed boost for Club morale, and a wonderful opportunity to promote our public programs. It's who we are.

I truly missed going out for coffee when we were done, but hey... I've got an equally long drive back to "Starbase: Backyard". It's time for me to ease on down the road, listen to some of my favourite jazz and try to wind down. I think from now on we need to give programs in Morrow County, because it seems like every time I cross that county line the skies clear. There was that big ol' Moon, just grinning away up there and keeping me company on the way back. By the time I hit my own county, it was gone...

And it's alright by me.

"I need my serenity."

July 28, 2004 - Just A Little "Moonshine"...

Comments: Well, things are not all quiet on the western front. According to SOHO, sunspot AR652 isn't done with us yet. Not one, not two, and not three... But four coronal mass ejections have been blasted off from our giant friend here. Part of me really wishes it hasn't been totally cloudy here for the last couple of days and maybe I could have confirmed on film that CMEs visually "warp" what we see in white light. It's alright, though... Just knowing that magnficent sunspot is still boiling away up there has been fun! (and knowing that we've some clear skies "supposed" to be on the way and that we might get treated to aurora again is even better... ;)

And the skies did indeed start clearing. Around 10:00 or so, I was watching Monty Python's Flying Circus and noticed the hummingbird feeder was glowing. Stepping out on the deck, you couldn't help but be riveted on that phat, bright gibbous Moon! One look at its position in the sky and I had to at least set out the old Celestron for a few minutes. Nope. Aristarchus was not what I was after... Nor was the beautiful presence of Gassendi and Schiller. What I was hoping for was to catch a occultation of a star! Although the Moon is right smack dab in the middle of one of the most star populous areas, I don't see anything even close to enough magnitude to be caught as a visible occultation. What a crime... I know it's out there running across Ophichus and clipping off stars left and right! Too bad it doesn't have a dimmer switch, eh?

Anyhow, I went back for a second helping of Schiller. Tonight? It is the one. Caught in the rugged Southern Highlands and lighted just perfectly for quiet contemplation.

Cuz' you know...

"I need my serenity..."

July 27, 2004 - "Starry Nights"...

Comments: Ah, you are my rock. Do you know that? When things get weird and fuzzy around the edges... You are always there for me and sometimes just that hug means more than you'll ever know.

Tonight's "Starry Nights" program at the Observatory was no doubt going to be cloudy... Despite the offered clearing given by the weather reports. It's not something that bothers me, because since I first began giving public programs, I have tried my best to be both entertaining and educational regardless of whether or not the skies cooperate. As a rule, my life is yin and yan. For every organized thing I present to the public? Behind it is untidy stacks of paper, scribbled notes and boxes of "stuff". For every smile, confident word, and ability to communicate to groups of people? There is an astronomer with "stage fright"... Afraid of tripping over my tounge, or mis-timing a performance. So with that in mind, my "rock" is not only you, but knowing what I have to present has been sorta' practiced... And I kinda' know what I'm doing.

Not so last night.

Let's just say that to keep things fresh, new, and entertaining to myself, that it was time to go with a totally new program... And I was scared. Sure, some of this is my basic routine... But I was going to totally break away from it and I had no idea of how the kids might react to it. Will it be good? Wil it be bad? Worse yet... Will there be 20 minutes of "hang time"? Yep. I was nervous.

It was good to arrive early. Plenty of time to halfways organize with my yan, what yin put together in 10 minutes before leaving. I know there was a while when I wasn't very sociable, and I apologize for that. Counting stars, even foam ones, and meditating means yan put yin on hold for awhile. And by the time it started to get dark? I was worse than a yo-yo. I remember smiling and talking... But little of what was said. I know it was wonderful to see Keith there for a program, and no one is more rock steady than Joe and Greg. We stood outside, listening to the groups of kids cheer, laugh and sing on the other side of the Hill. The time was getting closer. The kids were getting closer. Yin or Yan? Who would win?

Silly me. As soon as the first of the young folks emerged at the top of the Hill from the shadows, there is no guesswork. I can only be who I am, even here in my "Astro Diary". They file into the Observatory, excited and very well behaved. They sit on the floor in the shadow of one of the largest amateur operated telescopes in the world, and the moment I look into their anxious eyes all fear is gone. We listen to visitors from outer space and travel neatly through our own solar system. There is nothing finer than to watch as knowledge dawns on the face of another... Or to hear laughter at discovery! If I had a dream tonight, it was to bring the excitement of my own childhood experiences to this new generation, and I cannot tell you how rewarding it was to stand before them and watch their rapt attention as we re-lived the magic of the first man on the moon. I know that I tend to be rather sentimental about Apollo, but it was one of mankind's finest hours!

And it was re-lived tonight.

Eager hands reach into the "wizard's bag" for lucky stars, and beaming faces carry away their NASA treasure. Laughter and squeals of delight echo through the dome and they ride the lift to the top and the roof turns and opens. Questions abound amidst smiling faces, and how I wish I could have answered the young man from San Franciso's request to have at least looked through a telescope - Even if it was at clouds! And just like that? The time was up. Their thank you calls reverberate through the now empty dome and their chatter trails off as they head back for their cabins. I laugh as one conselor tells me he hopes his group wins again next week, because he has so enjoyed coming here. This is what it's all about. And this is part of what keeps astronomy alive for me.

In short order, things are packed up and closed down for the night. Working astronomers will be grumpy when the alarm rings tomorrow morning, but right now? Who cares? We talk for awhile and head off towards a night's rest. It has been one of the best programs we've ever given, and not a single star could be seen. As I head back west to my part of Ohio, I see a brightening in the sky about 20 miles from home. Hey, Yin? I think ol' Yan the Moon is peeking out from between those clouds. It makes me smile when I see it, and it is still there when I've changed into pajamas and head out with H. I toast Selene with my single Corona, knowing that Sinus Iridum, Plato and Copernicus are smiling back. Tonight's success was about the Moon...

But I owe it all to you.

"I need my serenity. Nothing changes... Days go by."

July 26/27, 2004 - Behind the Clouds and the Audible Aquarids...

Comments: Can you believe this solar activity? ShockSpot repeatedly keeps sending me 99% confidence level reports and that means something wild happened on the solar surface. Of course, you know the last photos I took were more than likely that last I will see of it, but just because there are clouds doesn't mean I'm not keeping my finger on the Sun's pulse. Just check out the CME that blasted all the activity our way!

SOHO Lasco video...

This happened about 24 hours after my last observation and is currently producing some very nice geomagnetic activity on the Blue Planet here. I know the aurora is out there... But it just doesn't shine through the clouds.

Of course, that also means that I'm not going to have the opportunity to watch the Aquarid meteor shower tonight, either... But like the Sun, I keep in touch in my own ways. Remember radio meteor listening? Yep. I still carry a torch for what can be achieved through other means - just like I still carry one for you, eh? So, early this morning I decided I'd tune in for a listening session.

Boring? Oh, yes. 90% of what you listen to is pretty much pure static, but every now and again you get a nice surprise. (i hear voices... ;) Quite a bit of the meteor noises aren't really easily recognizable for what they are... But a few of them are undeniable. Just listen to this one. Nice, huh? I guess these are most easy to catch when dozing around in the chair. How about this one? OK, then... You have my attention! By now we must be having some very decent activity, and although I missed several through my rather blonde recording techniques, I did catch this as well. I know my "second hand sound system" isn't precisely what you'd call the cat's asteroid, but at least I'm still doin' it.

So, you see... Even when the skies are cloudy? There are lots of fun ways to continue to practice astronomy. Yeah, I know... I get excited about some pretty strange things... But then... That's just me.

And then there was you.

"In a place where I can hide..."

July 24, 2004 - The Sun...

Comments: "Farewell and adieu to ye fair Spanish ladies... Farwell and adieu to ye ladies of Spain. For we've received orders for to sail back to Boston... And so nevermore shall we see you again." Oh, hi there! Wanna' take what will probably be our last look at giant sunspot series AR652? Then let me scootch over here a little and you can have a go at the eyepiece...

Pretty cool, huh? Sometimes I like the Baader filter and others I still like the glass. No, no... You keep watching for a bit. See on the edge there? That's faculae. Sort of a parting of the sea of granulation. You can pretty much only see them when they are on the edge like that. Why? Well, mostly because of this filter, and pretty much because the photosphere is so bright. When they get to the edge like that though, limb darkening helps show them up better. Notice how much those shadowy looking regions around the big spots have changed in the last couple of days? That's the penumbral field and it's always moving and shifting. Remember the first day we looked at this and you could see a bright thread across the really black spots? That was called a light bridge and it spans the coolest, and blackest part of the spot called the umbra. You see those whenever the umbra is going to divide. If you could watch one of these monsters in time lapse photography, it would look a whole lot like watching a bit of oil on top of boiling water. Sometimes little bits and particles of it divide away and those are called follower series. Heck, they might even pass the leader! But the leader is always known as the largest portion of the sunspot that's passed into visibility first. The reason some parts of a sunspot series move faster westward than others is called differential rotation. It's easy to grasp that concept! Just think of the circumference of a ball and think that what is near the equator takes longer to move because it's got more mileage to cover.

Oh, sure! I'll look again...

Pretty awesome, huh? Remember how we've talked about sunspots and what made them work? This one sure has been a prime example. Just like a big ol' magnetic scab on the photosphere! Of course, this was a pretty bad solar boo-boo, cuz' there has been more than once that scab came open and let off some pretty magnificent flares. You know what happens when you pick a scab, don't you? Darn right. You bleed. And so does the Sun! Only it doesn't do it quite like us... It's "blood" is magentic energy, X rays, radiation and protons. When that happens it's called coronal mass ejection. Did you know this one let off several CMEs over the last few days? Cool, huh... And when all that energy encounters Earth's magnetosheath and magnetosphere, a lot of it is deflected away... But sometimes some of it sneaks round and gets inside... And what that happens?

Well, two very magnetic places on our planet get pretty excited!!

Hmmmmm? Oh, yeah! Yes. You're right. That would be our magnetic poles and when the proton particles and magnetic "winds" reach here, well they ionize or excite the neutral oxygen and nitrogen particles in our atmosphere and they start dancin'! You know what happens when something vibrates, don't you? Yep. Friction. And when they glow? We see aurora! Of course, we don't always see them all the time, but the other night was great, wasn't it? Hmmm? Oh, yeah. Well, the Earth wears her magnetic halo kinda' askew sometimes. it's like a big oval... Sorta' like that ball cap you're wearing! At times she might decide to wear it to one side or another... Or maybe pulled way down or pushed way up. But whatever way it's worn is where you see the aurora. When the cap is pulled down low on our side of the globe? We get 'em here in Ohio. (musta' had the dang thing over its' face last fall, huh? them puppies were to the south!)

Sure. I'll take one more look. (i can't seem to help but take one more look at you.) It sure has been fun watching 652 do its thing. Ever hear of a guy named Henry Beston? He said, "The adventure of the Sun is the great natural drama by which we live, and not to have joy in it... Is to close a dull door on nature's sustaining and poetic spirit." Not bad for one of them long-haired cats, huh? Yeah. I see the clouds, too. We know the Earth has a pretty complex climate system, and although we aren't too sure yet of how the Sun might affect it, what we do know is that there is a clear and definate link between activity here and there. Maybe one day you'll discover that there's a link between solar activity and weather patterns in certain parts of the Earth, huh? Maybe those storms and clouds hang around the edges of the ballcap, huh? Ah, well... It's been great fun havin' ya' here...

Be cool.

"I need my serenity."

July 23/24, 2004 - To The Moon, Alice!... And The South Walks Down to the Ground...

Comments: Interesting titles? OK, normally I'm a bit more factual, but this is one of those nights that definately go down in Ohio nighttime history as rather incredible. But first? Let's start things off in the order in which they occur...

Tonight's main attraction was devoted to a bit over two hours of my time to Lunar Transient Phenomena Research. My assignment was to monitor crater Proclus during a specific time frame for any unusual shadow occurrances. It take it seriously this time, folks. I have my watch set to correct time and two instruments out. For my visual observations, I use the 12.5 Meade equipped with polarizing filter and 12.3mm ED eyepiece. For recording purposes, I use the 114mm Celestron, a 2X barlow and the video eyepiece. I have found it a simple matter to polar align the smaller scope, have the television monitor below and in front of me, and simply use the remote control to push record. This frees up my hands to do visual observations with the dob and I need only look over every few minutes and reset the drift for the one doing the recording.

Crater Proclus made a very nice appearance last night, even though it would not have been my choice of craters to have studied. The terminator is well past it, (posidonius is perfect!) and what we are actually looking at is studying the brightness factors of its interior. Here again, this is nothing new. The northern interior wall of Proclus simply shines like a beacon tonight. Its albeido gives presence to the depth of the crater and a bright systems of rays stretch from it. As I watch, I see we are experiencing some real thermal issues here, but it is not from the telescopes. The reality check is that Ohio is rapidly dropping in temperatures, and while this does not make the image "swim", it does mean that every few seconds it is like a sheet of plastic is drawn quickly across the view. Annoying, yes... But not destroying. As I continue to monitor Proclus, during a moment of pure stability it is possible to make out a notch on the southern interior wall. It is nothing more than a momentary bright bar, oriented from north to south. I make note of my observations and this particular feature is visible from between 01:10 UT and 02:30 UT.

After having double checked with the Rukl Atlas, it is my findings that this is probably not the transitory phenomena that the group is searching for, for the atlas does reveal an interior feature at exactly the described point. If nothing else, at least I can tell you when you can see it! And I can tell you what else I see...

Stars to the south... Way south.

Picking up my recording equipment, I need some time to let my eyes readjust, take on a bit of food, and wait for the Moon to get into that little grove of pine trees to darken these skies even more. In just a matter of a few hours, we have dropped 20 degrees and it's still dropping. As I set up my things for study, I find myself more serious tonight that usual, and I bring out a card table to stand alongside the dob, a clipboard for my notes, my red flashlight and Uranometria. I leave on the outside speakers and while I wait for more comfortable dark, I order a pizza from the only place that will actually deliver this far out into the country (hey... a nice tip insures that.) and shuck down for a swim. Whoa, now! Talk about a reversal in attitudes! Warm water and cold wind... Needless to say, my exercise was rather brief and to the point, but I sure didn't mind leaving my glasses on this time. You should see the random meteors!! The water spots will wipe off and the skies are just incredible...

Drying off, I head for some warmer clothes and put the 26mm Meade eyepiece out on the table to stabilize as well. As if well timed, my pizza arrives and H, Z and I share a large mushroom and onion as I study the maps. We've got stars beyond the lower portion of Scorpius visbile tonight and I am just itching to explore! I mark my notes at what I hope to achieve, starting off with one planetary, moving to globular clusters, then heading northwest for some opens. The Moon is far enough down that I can begin, so leaving a rambunctious german shepherd inside to pick at the empty box, the dob and I set sail for the far south.

NGC6302 - Visible in 26mm and appears pinched. Much like the Lil' Dumbbell. Outstanding at power. A definate central star and averted vision shows three distinct regions of nebulosity. A vague, grey/green in color.

NGC6441 - Unresolvable at low power, but easily bright with a star to the west. High power shows a bright globular, with some resolution and a distinct core area. What does come forward against the background density appears almost pin-wheel like.

NGC6388 - Visible but unresolved at low. High shows compact, bright structure with a dense central region. Only the edges resolve.. Beautiful field!

NGC6496 - Wow! Tough spot at low, but it does show with aversion. High means 8 stars resolved out in a string like, E/W loose formation over a center portion of stars so fine it appears almost like a small open cluster set over a galaxy. Wide aversion resolves a few more finer stars.

NGC6352 - Just visible at low. Magnification shows a very tiny, very loose structured globular. Faint. Resembles a small, rich open cluster.

NGC6318 - Nice field at low power. Resolves well. Magnification makes it a bit too large. The area is rich in similar magnitude stars and is well resolved at either power. Nice open cluster.

NGC6242 - Visible at low... Better at high. Many different magnitudes, total resolution with a N/S oriented string of stars. Quite a few stars around the field that may or may not be considered art of this open cluster.

NGC6231 - Beautiful!! Great at any range of magnfication. A stellar array of magnitudes in a jewel-like collection. Many doubles and colors.

NGC6192 - Very impressive stellar region. To low power, it looks like a very loose globular cluster. To magnfication, it is a roundish, fully resolved open that resembles a very miniature "Beehive".

And there you have it. By now the tilt of the sky is beginning to favour Saggitarius, and a few stringly clouds are coming in from the north. I am pleased before I call it a night to put back in the low power and simply digest some of the beauty of my favourite constellation. I realize I should be doing some more studies while the skies are this clear, but I am totally happy to have found nine of the twelve marks I set for myself tonight. As far as the skies go? Tell me what happens when the temperature reads 56 degrees, eh? Darn right.. The skies walk and talk! The Milky Way competes with the clouds it seems so dense... Truly this has been the way to end a vacation!

Now I'm off to rest. I'll go back as the "vampyre with the bad back", but I'll smile and get 'er done. As the days wear on and the Moon claims the night, I know I'll remember this one as fondly as I remember others, eh?

It was the stuff dreams are made of...

"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing? And when will we learn to control..."

July 22, 2004 - Road Trip 2004: The "French Market" and Delaware State Park... The Sun... Electric Aurora...

Comments: So, I started off early today. Cruised into Marion and let the doctor have a go at me. They call it PT. I think that means physical therapy, but it should mean patient torture. I can't help but wonder if they would be so willing to bend me in such ways if I were allowed to hold my knife and give response to "where does it hurt?" Apparently not... Because I wouldn't be the one hurting, thanks. ;)

Anyhow, I found myself running the road and I might just as well "tour Ohio" a bit more. My original intentions were to visit Columbus Botanical Gardens "Rose Show" on High Street, but Columbus had a downpour last night and flooded out that area. Not particularly willing to fight big city traffic only to find the gardens a mucky mess, I decided instead to head toward a haunt of my younger years, the "French Market". Once upon a time, this was a gorgeous collection of tiny specialty shops set up to look like the streets in France. Well, the streets are still there, folks. Beautiful, tidy three story buildings painted in pastel colors, the lower levels little cubicles of windows and doors. The walkways are still cobbled and the gardens tended. The statues, street lights and fountains are as I remember them...

But the vendors are all gone.

I walk around in amazement. No coffee shops. No candy corners. No candles, soaps, jewelry, odd clothing, incense, crafts, musical instruments, shoes, fresh produce, specialty foods, antiques, art, knick-knacks, or pastries. All that is left is a theatre and small offices. What on earth happened here? Big business, brothers. Big business. Who can compete with Super Wal-Mart and Giant Eagle? Who stands a chance when the strip mall has stripped away the customers from small shoppes? Instead of having a coffee late' and a fresh croissant at a wrought iron table in a garden, the big city and the big business has reduced such charm to Starbucks in a grocery store and the bakery department is a thousand yards away. I would have thought that in such a metropolitan area as Columbus, who thinks they are on the artsy, cultured edge, that such a place would have remained unchanged over the years. Ah, well... That's life in the BIG city, eh?

Keep Manhattan... Just give me the countryside.

So, forget it. I grab a couple of burgers at White Castle and battle my way back out on the highway north. Heck, the whole village I live in would fit in one of the parking lots in Columbus. I can't imagine communting in this crap anymore than I can imagine living right on top of one another. I am also amazed out just how far north Columbus has spread in recent years. What's next? Annex Delaware?? Tired of the traffic, as soon as I see Delaware State Park, I exit. At least some things have not changed. It feels good to get some fresh air and enjoy the spooky walk over the open gratings of the dam. I am happy to sit and watch the jet skis and boats over the lake, and content to turn round on the other side to watch the fishermen. It brings back old memories... A time when I used to fish here as well. Perhaps it's time to give up the scope and go back to the rod and reel, eh? Nah. I can still do both.

But it's been awhile.

By now, the Sun is starting to bite through the remainders of the storm clouds and it's getting mighty hot. Fortunately, I had dressed for hiking and a state park is a wonderful place to do so. I wandered around in the woods, seeing just how many species of wildflowers I could find and how many birds I could identify. I guess I'm just not cut out to be cultured. I love art. I love music. And occassionally I do attend theatre.... But somehow I cannot picture myself amoungst those type of people with mud on my hiking boots and my jeans knees holding up a jack-in-the-pulpit like a prize. It is a wonderful thing to dress in fancy clothes and attend a symphony concert... But is there anything wrong with just sitting on a log and listening to the wild finches chitter as they harvest their meal from a field of cosmos? I'll take watching their wonderful gold and black feathered ballet over the stage show "Cats" any day.

Heading back to my rural life, I realize there just might be an opportunity to view the Sun today. First order of business, though... Is a nap. An hour or so later, I rejoined the conscious, and happily set up the old Celestron on the deck and slid the wire inside to the VCR. Actually, this video eyepiece is kinda' fun!

I polar aligned, and the only thing that was required to be out in the heat was one arm as I'd reach out to track. Check this son-of-a-gun out! I can't believe how much AR652 has changed in a matter of days. Just look at how the major umbra portion has divided and the series of followers spread out and developed penumbral regions of their own. No wonder this baby blew its' cork! That many different structures means different magnetic fields interacting with one another and one very confusing region. It certainly has lived up to its "bad" reputation!

Wonder if I'll live up to mine? ;)

Hiding from the heat, I spent the rest of the day indoors. It feels pretty good to be lazy. I know there's programs for me to develop and I probably should actually answer some e.mail, but I'm kinda' diggin' on just creating my black bean and spinach burrittos for supper. (white castle and beans in one day? oh, lawd.... thank heavens i won't be in public tomorrow.) I fritter away the late afternoon and early evening hours watching the skies clear and certainly think about taking a scope out for the evening. As dusk fell and the Moon began to shine, the thin veil of heat haze returned. I decided I try to wait it out in the pool and keep watch for more aurora since the bulk of the proton stream will have hit by now. I watched the shadows of the swallows diving against the sky in chase of insects, and smiled quietly as the bats fluttered and dipped down to the water for a drink before they headed off to their night's work... And I wasn't disappointed.

By 9:30 or so, that red arch was back. Thanks to the haze, it was far less pronounced that last night but still there. I was enjoying watching it, but beginning to notice "flashes" that didn't belong. Again, curious to make sure this wasn't terrestrial in origin, I crawled out of the pool, wrapped up in towels, slid on a pair of sandals and headed for the shorn wheat field for a parallax view. Three seconds after I put what might possibly account for the light show in a position that did not affect the red arch, I understood. Lightning! We've got a storm headed across the northern area....

Smiling, I recall other summer nights when just such a thing occurred. I vaguely remember sitting on the deck railing admiring the aurora not knowing a storm was sneaking up behind me. But this one is not sneaking... It's right where I'm looking. I still hold firm in my opinion that a CME causes weather effects in my area, for the number of times that electrical storms accompany its' arrival to our magnetosphere far outweight simple coincidence. Remember Occam's Razor?

And so the clouds overtake the aurora, and the cool rains of a warm summer night overpower the stars. There is something nice about standing under the porch roof, listening to the grass grow and smelling the clean, fresh aroma of rain. It might be just another summer night, but how many of them do I have left now? Only God knows the answer to that one. My job is just to...

Appreciate them while I can.

"And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"

June 21, 2004: Road Trip 2004 - Malibar Farms... The Aurora and Gettin' Messier...

Comments: Another hot, hazy and humid day here in the Heartland. Yesterday pretty much spent me and I had a difficult time motivating and even more difficult time convincing my back that I needed to get out and do something. I had thought about heading for either Cleveland or Cincinnatti to visit a planetarium, but both cities are a pretty strenuous car ride from my locale and I decided I'd be better off today sticking just a bit closer to home. The last few times I have been to Malibar, I know I've looked at the "Big House" and told myself I'd go and visit there one day again, and it looks like today is going to be it. Stuffing my little cooler with a fine lunch, I pack up and head out toward the showcase home of Louis Bromfield.

I know you've heard me speak many times of Astronomy For Youth and the programs we give in the Horseman's Area of Malibar Farms, but it's much more than just a state park. This lovely old farmhouse you see here in the distance is the perfectly preserved home of Pulitzer Prize winning author, Louis Bromfield and has a rich, rich history. The sprawling home contains more than 30 rooms that have been kept just as they were in Bromfield's day. His own handsome collection of antiquities includes two original Grandma Moses paintings and a wealth of Hollywood history. As you enter the home, the graceful, sweeping double staircase was the scene of Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall's wedding. Every room you enter is perfectly appointed in its' 1940s style and everywhere you look was once the visiting place of the movie stars. Think of any actor that belonged to that era? And they were there.

Do not imagine this place to be antique by any stretch of the imagination. Politically correct, all things here are considered antique, but those who came from my generation recognize furnishings, bathroom appointments, bedspreads, appliances, entertainment equipment, and even cabinetry to belong to a time we remember. Can you imagine little Shirley Temple dancing about in these rooms and sneaking into the kitchen? I can. Can you imagine Carol Lombard taking a bubble bath? Or Clark Gable selling vegetables at the roadside stand? Of course. When you visited the Bromfield Farm, you became part of a working farmhouse. It still is to this day! Livestock is still kept and all manner of produce is grown here... From their own bees comes honey for sale, and even the herb garden bounty is dried and sold here. And maple syrup? Oh, yeah! Right down to the buckwheat ground on premise and sold in charming flour sacks for a pancake breakfast. Not only was Bromfield a prolific author, but a major contributor to area agriculture and Malibar Farm was a self-supporting community.

When I have finished the tour, I head on up the curving road and into the picnic area. It's nice to sit here in the shade and watch the bluebirds peek out of their curious houses. The woods are a quiet and wonderful place to spend time and I smile at the many different species of trees that grow here. And when I have tired?

I know the way home.

The evening gave way to balmy temperatures, and I figured some more exercise would be good for me... And what better than swimming? By the time it had started to get dark, I was out and quietly doing slow, steady laps. I watched the two day old Moon go by through the little grove of trees to one side and would float and smile up as the stars began to come out one by one. The radio was playing some quiet rock and roll and I was feeling pretty content... And then I noticed something. Where in the heck is that red light dome coming from?? It almost looks like aurora! I swam to the south edge of the pool so I could get a better look at the northern sky. I wanted to be sure what I was seeing was not low level haze reflecting light. No way, baby. I know those signature colors and low level haze here is orange and not red!! Besides... You can't see stars through haze!

And so laughing, I stayed at the south edge of the pool for at least 30 minutes watching the northern sky light up. The curve rode about 10 degrees above Polaris, went as far west as the edge of Ursa Major, and encompassed the northern portion of Cygnus. At times, what was low north would shimmer and turn a beautiful shade of light blue, but that tall arc of red held very steady. There were no tremendous spires this time, but there was no mistaking what I was seeing.

By the time it had faded, I had to go back indoors to change and check the information. Daggone right! On the 20th, mammoth spot 652 shot off an M4 class flare and resulted in a weak, earth-directed CME. And where am I? Out goofing around, huh... ;) No matter. Within minutes of finding that information, ShockSpot sent me a hit, and I knew immediately my auroral sighting was confirmed. ShockSpot, the earthbased proton detection meter was tripped at the 99% confidence level, and I can confirm it visually. We've got aurora in OHIO!

Feeling pretty good about life in general, I decided I'd take out the maps and the old Celestron and just get Messier for awhile. The skies aren't exactly what I would call great, but I don't mind hunting down the M81, M82, and M51. There might be some haze, but not enough to totally eradicate the M10 and M12. There is a little bit of distant lightning here and there... but who cares when you're looking at the M27 and M71? The mosquitoes are starting to find me... But not before I found the M11.

Smiling, I figure that's enough for tonight. I've been trying to get away from astronomy a bit, because I'm honestly starting to burn out. But just like when I was swimming? I don't find astronomy...

It finds me.

"Where do we go when we just dont know?"

July 20, 2004 - Road Trip 2004: "Piatt Castles and Starry Nights"...

Comments: It has been awhile since I have spent some time with my youngest son. My oldest is very much a man in his own rights, with a family, a job and a home... And it sometimes shocks me when I really stop and look at my youngest. Like his brother before him, he's going to be very tall and he loves to point out the fact that he's gone a couple of inches beyond me already. If you speak to him on the phone? He sounds like a man. If you put him to work? He works like a man. Yet somewhere inside he is still young enough to want to "do things" with me and I take advantage of that while there is still time. So he and his girlfriend join me in a bit of an "adventure quest"...

Our "Road Trip" destination for today? Two secluded places in southern Ohio known for their antiquities and visual charm. They are known as the Piatt Castles, and when you see these magnificent French chateaus appear in the midst of the rolling green Ohio farmland, there is no doubt that they very much appear like a fairy tale castle. The first is by far my favourite...

I have visited Mac-O-Chee many times over the years and have watched it slowly be restored from the general waste it had become. Construction on these fantasy homes was started at the end of the Civil War and economic times saw this one in particular change owners many times over the years. By the mid 60's, this piece of artwork was reduced to nothing more than storage facility for grain and farm equipment and heavily scarred by time. Can you image parking a tractor in the grand entry hall on a parquet floor made of oak, maple and cherry? Although the floor has been restored, the stains still remain to this day.

But I digress. As I have said, I have visited many times over the years and each time is to marvel anew at the restoration. You cannot imagine the loving detail that originally went into this home. The walls and ceilings were all handpainted by a French artist, Oliver Frey. Portraits captured on ceilings, designs that defy our concept of modern wall paper that were placed on the stuccoed limestone by the hand of a single artist.... And these hundreds of years later? They still are there... And still just as heartbreakingly beautiful. Words cannot described the elaborate use of wood throughout the castle. Every leaded window is a showcase of its own... Every shutter, doorframe and floor. Even the staircases were custom design and at one time no expense was spared. As the years have passed, period carpeting has been replaced and as many of the home's original furnishings recovered as possible. That which cannot be called back has been replaced with similar fixtures, such as the ornate gas lamps and peiod antiques. Rooms have been opened which I have never seen before! And rooms that I have known from the past and loved even better cared for than they once were.

It is a private endeavor, taken on by the Piatt family, this restoration. Only our tour monies and donations are all they have to call it back. But one look at the ceramic work in the many fireplaces, and the absolute granduer of a bygone era is worth such an endeavor... And I am honoured to give what I can. And so we journey to the next...

Mac-O-Cheek is smaller, but has met with greater fortune over the years. Still home to the Piatt family, this graceful chateau is no less opulent than its predecessor. It's rooms have been painstakingly restored and preserved over the years. Again, the use of wood and fresco are truly works of art on their own. From servants quarters to the master dining hall, this is one serious antiquity. Again, it is impossible for me to describe just how very graceful and grand the inside of this home is. Rich? Oh, yes. In its period, this would have been about as rich as you could get in Ohio. Now? Now it is not so much about the display of wealth as it is about preserving history and the legacy of a family. It is my hope that the Piatt family continues to restore their ancestoral homes and that they will always be open to a grateful public.

They are magnificent...

And so we picnic in the fragrant shade of the gardens, admiring the old carriage houses and stone dog kennels. Once refreshed, we head back out on the road again. About the time the car has cooled, I hear snoring from behind me and turn to smile. How I wish I could do the same! (oh, heck... it's a long straight stretch. how about if i just set the cruise control and kick back here? no? ok.... ;) We arrive back in plenty of time for a bit of relaxation and an evening meal... It's "Starry Nights" at the Observatory tonight and son Jon wishes for he and his girlfriend to also accompany me. I have no problem with that, and as the skies clear, we pack an extra scope in the car in hopes of them enjoying the stars as well.

By the time we added the miles to the day's itinerary, it sure looked like rain. Still a bit cautious of my back, I drove into the observing area and Jon helped me get set up. Hola! There is another John here as well, and I am most pleased to see another member of the RAS willing to help with the camp kids program. Once unloaded, I return my car to the parking area and away the young folks go. Can't say that I blame them. Walking hand in hand with someone you love about the beautiful grounds here would appeal to to part of me as well, eh? And as they go their own way, the set up for the night has begun.

One by one, those who care enough to be here begin to arrive despite the clouds. Here is Greg, then Dan and guests as well as Joe. Long lost RAS member, Ted, also arrives with a guest. It is not long until we are quite ready to give a program and even the skies have began to cooperate. Afraid it would be too difficult for us to chase through sucker holes with the big scope, I had done nothing more than open the dome for the evening, and when Ted offers to set it on "The Ring", I am delighted to turn on the red lights and let him have at it. We can hear the kids below us and it won't be long until they arrive.

Readying my own scope, we look at the crescent Moon for a bit and hop to what can be caught at the time. And inside? Well... Long and short of it, the lift broke. Hey. It's no problem. We have three scopes set up outside, a program ready to roll, and all we need is the kids.

But there's no kids.

We hear them gather below and I start things up. Things get quieter... And there's no kids. Fifteen minutes pass.... And there is no kids. We're ready! And there's no kids... Concerned, Joe hops in his vehicle and heads down the Hill to find out what's going on. In the meantime, we patiently starhop to a few goodies and await the word. Tonight? There will be no kids. There has been a problem with camp security and the gates will be locked at a certain hour. No kids.

Disappointed? Somewhat, but I am far from heartbroken. I show our guests what I had lined up for a program in a brief manner and we are always happy to just do a bit of starhopping for the night's sake. Joe leaves, and mindful of the time I button things up and with John's help secure everything for the night. We bid both guests and astronomers a good night, and I smile at Saggitarius, promising myself a date when I get back home. Reclaiming my car, my entourage and I head back out on the road again. Has there ever been a time when a vanilla milkshake and french fries tasted so good? Yeah. I remember "Mission"...

By the time I have delivered my human cargo to their various points around the state, I am tired. I have driven well over 300 miles today and my mind is set on traversing the light years. Alas... It is not to be. By my return in the wee hours, the clouds have veiled the stars once again. Only a few bright remainders here an there even signify there was a sky tonight. It is alright, though... My eyes have been on the M11, the M4, Brocchi's Cluster, the M27, the M57, various double stars, a handful of meteors and a dandy iridium flare tonight. I am content to sit on the park bench in my pajamas and enjoy a cold Corona while H prowls the yard. Even though all things did not turn out as planned, it has still been a terrific day and I have no complaints.

Let's find another unusual place to visit tomorrow... Eh?

"I need my serenity.... Nothing changes. Days go by."

July 19, 2004 - Field Work: NGC6803, NGC6781, NGC6790, NGC6741, and NGC6751... Sky Surfin'...

Comments: And so this was my opportunity for a bit of quiet study... You ask what plans I would have on a new Moon week when I do not have to work and I would show you. I do not want to drive to a dark sky site... I have one here. I do not need aperature the size of a grain silo... My old companion, the 12.5 will do. I do not require encoders and computers connected to my scope... I have Uranometria and patience. I do not need an observing partner to oooh and aaah at my skills and confirm my observations... I've got an H.

And no one could really care less.

It still feels like the night of the 18th, although I know it is after midnight and to be "correct" I need to list that date. I also know that for science sake, I need to tell you that I used the 26mm Meade to locate field and the 12.3mm ED Epic to study. You might draw a mental picture in your mind that I am all serious science, out there in my white lab coat and pocket protector with a chart table set up, a clipboard and mechanical pencil readied for notes and an atomic clock to mark each time with precision and a computer to confirm with RealSky what I see with my eyes... But you'd be wrong. I am nothing more than an old barefoot kid in cut-offs and a holey, faded Harley tee... With a walkman crammed in my pocket and a pencil stub tucked behind my ear. I keep a couple of pieces of sratch paper to mark my place in my mapbook and an old military flashlight hung off a belt loop. My lab companions are a crazy black german shepherd and a can of Coke in a decidedly dirty can cooler that says "I refuse to grow up."

And what I do? I do for me.

Tonight's studies were chosen both for difficulty and the fact they would require the least amount of contortion on my part to find. (i'm still stiff, ok?) The sky is not the most pristine I have ever seen it, but I know through experience that I can achieve at least magnitude 13 under these conditions and that it is relatively stable. Constellation of choice? Aquila. Objects of choice? Planetary nebulae. Notes? As follows...

NGC6803 - Difficult find. Requires continual confirmation of field. When located, absolutely stellar. No disc. No central. Very small.

NGC6781 - This is the one that has started my fascination with planetary nebulae in Aquila. Very large and has "living qualities". Probably a spectroscopic delight. Although I am aware it has a central star, I do not see one.

NGC6790 - A difficult identification. Appears as an out-of-focus star. Just slightly fuzzy and no apparent color. No central.

NGC6741 - Also a challenge. Nearly stellar in size, only the inability to achieve perfect focus reveals it. No central star present.

NGC6751 - Improvement. Identifiable at low power as a planetary signature. High power reveals a soft halo structure around a minute and pinpoint central star. Central requires wide aversion, structure apparent direct.

And there you have it. Once upon a time I would require myself to view these particular objects three times under various conditions before even daring to report them. Nowadays? It seems my study times have gotten too far and few between. My next clear night could be a public program or it could be during the daggone Moon. I used to be pretty particular, but here lately I'm happy with what I can get. I walk around, stretching some of the kinks out of my back, and go back to the garage to fetch a new CD because I've listened to this one at least twice through. I toss my empty Coke can in the appropriate barrel and have hearty laugh as Cat Z flies away from his observation post at the sliding glass door when I go in to fetch another.

When I return to the scope, it is to put the high power eyepiece back in its' plastic sleeve and leave only the low. I close my book of maps and lose myself for awhile... Enjoying nothing but the music and the limitless vista of objects I know well. It is a pleasure to dance amoung the open clusters of Cassiopeia once again and to see the "Ring" on the other side of the sky. I brush across many of my favourite "M words", just delighting in free opportunity. No pressure to find them, and the need to study and report them long past. For me? This is a whole lot of what I am.

At ease and happy to be out under the stars...

"I need my serenity. In a place where I can hide..."

July 18, 2004 - The Sun...

Comments: Feeling a bit more like my old self, thanks. I gingerly set the old Celestron just outside the garage door and although the clouds were racing by a mile a minute, decided I just had to have another look at those "bad boy" sunspots. When I got the scope set on the solar surface and in focus?

I about fell down.

Something wicked this way comes! Oh, my word... You should see the size of the new sunspot that has rotated into view! Excited, I figured I better head back inside and grab the video camera. These looks like some real movers and shakers. And ya' know what? The inevitable clouds...

No problem. I decided I wasn't going to be stressed about anything, so I put the scope away and took myself out to a very fine lunch. Afterwards? Still more clouds, so I happily finished yet another book I had been reading about the Civil War and by the time I had neared the end I began to notice some off and on patches of sunshine. Oh, why not. And so the quest to bring you illustrations in new ways began. I set the little bitty television on an upside down five-gallon bucket, flipped an extension cord outside the door and used the video eyepiece to record today's activity. Needless to say, it didn't turn out quite like I expected, but I had a magnificent time chasing them across the screen and using the remote control to help me. (why couldn't using the webcam have been this easy?!)

Wanna' peek?

This is the one that has been causing the most magnetic fuss right now. It is a composite shot of AR649 and AR651. This magnificent area is holding a beta-gamma-delta magnetic classfication and a Fkc cateory. Definately a bi-polar beauty, the asymetrical penumbral structure combined with mature umbrae at both ends means this one is undergoing some wild changes. Look good? Well, unfortunately it looked orange on the screen, but what I got on film wasn't quite what I saw.

The other? The hang on to your keyboard, cuz' I'm about to introduce you to a giant...

This time I left the full shot so you could get a sense of just how big the area of AR652 and AR653 really is. Venus had nothing on this pair! I am blown away by the sheer size of 652 and am suprised to find it it is only holding a beta magnetic classification and Ekc structure. While its' partner, 653 is not as large, it is not hard to see all the faculae that surrounds it. Between these two, the edge looks totally alive! Of course, I can't outdo SOHO and you have just got to see this through the eyes of the FE XV camera...

Image courtesy of SOHO...

Talk about an awesome display!! Just look at all the energy coming out of those things.... Truly a work of art.

For now? That'll do. The clouds kept coming back repeatedly, but it is enough for me to be feeling better and back on the job again. I hope the days ahead mean clearer skies and more opportunities to watch as this awesome pair transits the face of the Sun.

I'll be there...

"And every day I hold you... Hold you with my inner child."

July 17, 2004 - The Astronomy For Youth "Cloud Party"...

Comments: You'll never know how close I came to simply begging off on this one. Between the clouds and the cold rains, I knew there wasn't going to be any chance of observing tonight and I honestly didn't feel like the car ride. At the same time, I also know from experience that you can't just roll over and play dead when something hurts or it takes longer to get over it. Besides, not only is this a public night, but it is also a meeting night and as a board member, I really should attend. So when the time came? I took a long hot shower, took two Tylenol, put on a happy face and met with my friends at Astronomy For Youth at Malibar Farm.

When I arrived, Bubba and his family (soon to be one more!), Greg, Curt, Trish and Stuart were already there. I stood for as long as I could hack it, but soon found myself sitting on the pavement. (i feel so stupid.) We laughed, talked and joked about "old times", and it's good that I can let my age show from time to time and know that at least one other remembers the days when there was no color television, when the ice cream man was a very big deal, and back when the space program first started. (do you remember sputnik, stuart? we used to watch that crazy thing just like we do the ISS nowadays...) The time passed pleasantly enough and it wasn't long before Robert and Tim arrived as well.

The meeting was underway and as I looked at the agenda, the first order of business had my name on it. (oh, lord... what have i done now?) So when the attention turned toward me, I could have dug a hole in the ground where I was sitting. I had no idea of what was happening and was fast mumbling about nothing into my paperwork when I was handed an award that about made me cry. How I wish you had been here, Mr. Wizard... This group of people have quietly worked towards getting recognition of achievement in my behalf, and I am deeply honoured.

We continue on with the meeting, thrilled to have accomplished so much within just one short year. Curt, Robert, Trish and I have watched our small group triple in size and the plans we have made have turned into realities. Our public outreach programs have served hundreds and hundreds of people in less than a year and we are still moving forward. It is truly gratifying to know just how many people have been our guests and left with the stars in their eyes! It has been equally an honour to have served with such a proactive group... And to know that whatever I can dream up will be made a reality.

The sky is not the limit.

After our meeting, we head on back down to a local eatery and continue our fellowship there. Well behaved? Not hardly. Within the law? Of course. After we eat, we all head our seperate ways, and it is time for me to get aside with Stuart who has some new dimensions to teach me. He also develops things as well, and he presents me with a copy of his program of the Venus Transit. I can only stand amazed as I watch laptop magic taken to a new level! Grinning in the dark, he has showed me that I have another new tool in my hands and how I can make use of it. As we talk, my mind races a mile a minute, my back temporarily forgotten as I can see the beauty and simplicity with which I can develop new things. Turning it off for awhile, I remember to take time for the man himself and just appreciate Stuart for Stuart. You are alright, mon ami... ;)

Heading out on the highway, we honk as we split off on our seperate routes. So much has happened in just the last few hours that I wonder if I will even be able to sleep tonight. Oddly enough though, I find when I turn the lights down low that it is not long before sleep comes to claim me. I look for the longest time at the award, strangely moved by just a piece paper, a letter and a bit of metal. There are times when I miss you so much... And I only hope that from somewhere up above those clouds you are looking down...

And are proud of me.

"I'm the one who loves you... No matter wrong or right."

July 16, 2004 - The Sun and the RAS Cloud Meeting...

Comments: Me? Set up the scope? No way. After a few hours at work, I couldn't pick up a coffee cup, let alone my trusty old Celestron. Fortunately, my youngest son is no stranger to telescopes and enlisting his aid meant an opportunity for me to view the latest solar activity...

courtesy of SOHO - MDI image

I guess from what I've heard that this bad boy has been kicking up a real rucus, and it's just unfortunate that I can't set up the right equipment to record it first hand. (are you kidding? right now i can barely handle climbing the stairs to check the e.mail let alone research the magnetic activity.) I do appreciate just getting to see it though! It is a fine collection of mature umbra and series of followers and I hear that even more are on the way!!

Come on, back... Get over it.


By the time the end of the day had arrived, the clouds had come back as well. I am beginning to think that the RAS just isn't mean to have any clear nights anymore! It's alright though, it was still my pleasure to visit with Dave, Mke G. and Mike A, Terry and Joe. There's always a lot of laughter to go around and a cloudy night means we eat instead of scope! By now, I am sincerely beginning to miss being able to do things myself. Even though the rest of the night stayed cloudy?

Maybe tomorrow won't be...

"Cheating me out of my time..."

July 15, 2004 - Malibar Farms: Ewing Hill Summer Camp...

Comments: Tonight's destination? Malibar Farms to give an astronomy program the the Ewing Hill Camp kids...

"Here I am. Back on the road again. Here I am. Up on a stage... Here I go. Playin' star again... Here I go. Turn the page..."

It was about all I could do to get out of the car when I got there. Sometimes it's pretty hard to smile when you don't feel like it, but seeing my friends, Robert, Greg and Curt make me forget most of my troubles, eh? I'm afraid I can't handle packing a scope with me tonight... But at least I am here. Fortunately the biggest part of my end of a program doesn't involve anything but the ability to communicate astronomy and astronomy principles, and the weight of the Universe is pleasant. As we wait for our group of visitors to arrive, I am content to watch my friends ready their scopes and feel the Tylenol kicking in. Greg fusses about the SVD8 like an old mother hen and he makes me smile. Who me? The dude from "Raising Arizona".. chasing you eternally on my Harley because you touched it? Oh, come on... Just because I know where to hide a body doesn't mean I'd harm you! Besides, you're too darn big for me to drag away tonight... Snick.

But I could arrange to have it done in small pieces. ;)

That's it. Now they've done it. Got me to smile again! It just feels weird for me to stand here doing nothing... To have brought nothing but my laptop and a couple of rocks in my pocket. (ok, they are more than just rocks... but they are rocks nonetheless.) But it's ok. There is more to me than just setting the telescope on fifty different things an hour and by the time the young folks arrived I was ready to do "my thing". I think perhaps my greatest surprise of the evening came when I realized these were not precisely children. Young adults would be a more apropos description and I know there was a least 40 of them. After they had a chance to have a look at the equipment, they meandered my way... And the show began.

To spend a night with me is to use all your senses. Astronomy is more than just sight. There are sounds, things to touch, (you can smell and taste it if you like...) colors of the wind, and I will play with your mind. Even as the skies darken, I can see their eyes widen in understanding as we make the quantum jump to light speed. I like their smiles as they grasp concepts as eagerly as they grasp meteors and a piece of the moon. When I have finished my song and dance, I send them to the various telescopes to explore with their own eyes what I have just told them about, and I still find myself surrounded with questions. There were a few young men in this group who had well above average knowledge of cosmology and we hit it off. Discussing theories and laws, their rapid fire questions met with rapid fire answers and even a piece of paper can instantaneously become a teaching tool. Everything from theology to outright physics meshed together...

The Milky Way came out to play in all its glory. What I wouldn't give if I could just take you to one of my scopes and show you firsthand what gravitational attraction does, or obscuring dark dust, or the differing viewpoints on similar phenomena. You ask about the life of the stars and all I can do is tell you... When I'd rather show you examples of population I and II! Ah, well... Unfortunately my body is not as young as my mind.

But at least I've still got one.

As the young folks filter away, it is time for me to do so as well. It hurts to see such beautiful, dark skies and know that I cannot stay and explore. There will be other times and I know I will heal soon. Wishing Robert, Curt and Greg all the best, I head back out on the road and watch the skies darken even more as I distance myself from the larger cities. I try my best to focus solely on the road ahead and not look out the window to dream on the stars. I did stop and take the time though, when I returned... To walk out to my favourite observing spot and look at where the Milky Way deepens in stars as it approaches the heart of our galaxy...

Just a few moments to remember.

"Tore away everything..."

July 14/15, 2004 - Venus and the Moon...

Comments: Houston? I've got a little problem here. Sometimes I forget I ain't in my twenties (or even thirties for that matter) and have a tendency to exert myself beyond my physical limitations. In other words? I hurt my stupid back. So, despite clear skies... There's gonna' be no carrying the scope around for me for a few days.

Fortunately, my mind is still with me (it might be a temporary thing, though... ;) and I spent both the morning of the 14th and the morning of the 15th watching the sunrise. Any special reason? You bet. Venus is back on the scene again and the vision of both it and the superslim crescent Moon have just been a vista worth stepping outside before I leave for work and taking the time to admire. The first morning they sat side by side... The Moon just north of due east and Venus just a bit to the south. The next day I had wondered if the Moon was going to show at all, but it rose with an amazing speed out of a pinkening sky to join bright Venus.

Perhaps one day I will have the right type of equipment to photograph and do justice to such beauty. As I stand and watch them, I just get such a sense of where we are in the cosmos and I have to gently remind myself that I am out here to enjoy it and not to to create a full scale orrery with my mind. It is simply wonderful enough to know that as I go about my days that many, many people will ask me what it is that they have seen and I will be able to tell them about our solar system and they will understand.

A natural and beautiful thing...

"Tragic visions slowly stole my life..."

July 13, 2004 - "Starry Nights"...

Comments: The only thing I don't like about summer is that it gets dark so late. I'm pretty much a creature of regemin, and I have my life in a certain order, eh? I check my e.mail three times a day, I eat my dinner at 6:00, I always dress in black so I never have to worry about what to wear, I consume tofu of my own free will, I watch four hours of television a week, I rarely speak aloud when I am home, and I prefer to practice astronomy shortly after I have had my evening meal... So, it's against my "grain" to have to wait until almost bedtime for it to get dark. Why tell ya' this? So you'll understand that I was pacing the floor in anticipation of the opening program for The Warren Rupp Observatory - 2004 - "Starry Nights".

For those of you unfamiliar with this, the Observatory has always provided a summer program for the camp kids at Hidden Hollow. As once a week "prize" for the cabin who wins the talent contest, the program in the past had been entirely weather dependent. Thanks to the good grace of our Observatory Director, Joe, I have been given my head and allowed to offer the programs to the youngsters on a "rain or shine" basis... And I am ready. The only hard part will be containing me to one hour!

Setting out across country, the Camaro was jam packed with the "Disco Travelling Astronomy Roadshow". I arrived at the top of the Hill, just as the various groups of campers were heading for the outdoor theatre. Slowing to a crawl, they grinned and waved as I went by. They don't mind my taste in music, and I certainly don't mind them being young! It seems like it has been so long since I have been over here, and I realize that it has been several weeks. Parking my car, I start to unload my gear and John comes round to greet me. We laugh over the few flowers the rabbits left in the rock garden and I given him the new American flag that I think would look great adorning the ClubHouse. Moments later, Greg arrives as well, soon to be followed by Robert and then Joe. The skies don't look that promising, but I've noticed when these guys are around?

Everything has promise.

Opening the dome and the big scope to start cool down, I slid some rock and roll into the stereo, and went back out to join in the various conversations while I readied the rest of the program. At one point we all look toward the head of the stairs as a young lady arrives accompanied by a gentleman in full dress uniform... Dan! My mentor... How good to see you here! No one has the eloquence of story telling down like Dan, and it's not long until he has us all laughing in conversation. As he gives his niece a tour of the Dome, we can hear the kids of the other side of the Hill having a wonderful time in the theatre. It won't be long now.

Suprisingly enough, those clouds began to depart (only a little, though...) and we were hard put to find a DSO to set the big scope on. Enlisting Robert and Joe to set it on the M57, Greg and John also aimed their scopes towards whatever targets were availabe. At 10:00, it is darn near dark enough and as the various cabins assembled at the bottom of the Hill, we watched a magnificent pass of the ISS, followed immediately by a fantastic display of high voltage magnitude as Iridium 46 blazed in at -8... Just shy of Vega. And about three minutes later?

Twenty-six young people and four counsellors arrived.

Knowing we only had an hour, we started off listening to "visitors from outer space" and gave the kids an opportunity to touch pieces of the Cosmos. It didn't take long to have them laughing as they grasped the concept of light speed and distance, and with an eye towards a declining sky, soon had them grouped off towards the various telescopes for a first hand look. Pickin's were mighty slim, but it didn't seem to bother these young folks. Moving at sub-warp, we all stream lined them with as much astronomy information as we could possibly cram into one hour. One moment exploring the Universe through a little laptop magic... The next lasering the constellations into view. Eager hands reached in the wizard's bag for "lucky stars" and all manner of NASA goodies were distributed amoungst the happy faces.

And they left almost as suddenly as they came Their calls of "thank you" echoed off the dome and around the observing table. We who are left, look round and smile at each other in congratulations. What once upon a time would have been a cancelled night has been a total success... And it feels good.

Equipment is quickly broken down and stowed away. The dome is closed and silent once again. Amidst our own brand of appreciation of one another, we depart one by one to head back to our own regimes, happy to have been a part of a young person's memorable summer. Our faces and names will fade away as the years go by... But what we have done here tonight?

Will always be in their memories.

"And when will we learn to control?"

July 12, 2004 - NGC5885, M5, NGC5838, NGC5846, NGC5813, and NGC5806...

Comments: Aaaaaah... Thanks for the rain! A little blessed relief from the high temperatures? A cooling rain. Despite the phat drops that still fell from the skies, I decided at dusk to go out swimming. It's just to daggone sultry to sit inside brooding in front of the tube, even though it's cool and pleasant inside. It's been a long week, my back hurts and I just want some exercise. As is true to our weird weather patterns, not more than an hour later the skies had begun to clear in a big way. First the patchy holes, and then the wide open spaces. I watched the stars come out one by one, hoping to see Mercury and Mars on the horizon, but didn't get that lucky. By the time Arcturus and Vega were just burning holes in my retina, I noticed Scorpius was really visible even without my glasses. Nice! Swimming round to retrieve them, I started taking stock of the seeing conditions. As I was admiring Epsilon Lyrae, I noticed movement and homed in on it. Talk about a mother of all iridium flares!! Coming very, very close to actually eclipsing Vega, this particular iridium flare came burning in at such an incredible magnitude that I actually lost sight of Vega during its peak. I won't even hazard a guess at how bright that baby was!

Hey... If the skies are going to cooperate, I'm going to take out the big ol' dobsonian telescope for awhile. The rain has laid down the dust and the stars of Libra are looking mighty fine! For the record, by the time I hit stabilization, was dressed, mosquito proofed and had the maps out and ready to go, it was close to 10:30. My eyepieces of choice were once again the 26mm Meade and the 12.3mm ED Epic.

Now let's rock.

Object of choice tonight is in Libra, and chosen for it's nearby position to Beta. I found the NGC5885, to be quite small, faint and hard to distinguish at low power. Once located, I upped the magnification and found a slight improvement. The NGC5885 is still rather small and faint, but structure is achievable with just a slight amount of averted vision. Definately spiral in structure, it has a bright core region and resides in a very stellar field. Patience and wide aversion reveals what may be hints of arm structure, but would best be revisited for confirmation.

Next object? M5... Ow! Man, I'll tell you... One look through 12.5 inches of aperture with enough magnification to sock out resolution will impress even the most jaded of astronomers. By now, full stabilization has been reached and the skies are being pretty cooperative. Resolution is beyond compare. Tiny stars snap out perfectly over the underlying density and the M5 splays out around the outside edges. A couple of fine and tiny chains inside the structure makes me just want to stop here and marvel over a 13 billion year old formation of stars... Simply incredible.

The next set of observations were chosen for their proximity to the M5. Again, I have rusted and am much slower than I care to be... So I chose a galaxy cluster area around easy finderscope star 110 Virginis. This is a loose grouping and the skies are holding a steady 5.5 limiting magnitude and I am willing to give the more difficult studies a try. (as soon as i quit drooling on the rising milky way and willing the skies to hurry up and shift so i can go low down in ophiuchus. ;)

First off? Location of NGC5838. Achievable at low power and moderate aversion. Power up... Elongated structure with a bright, concentrated nucleus but no real intense structure. Scanning the field, I am looking for companion galaxy NGC5848, but with no success. Moving south, the next into the eyepiece is NGC5846. Man... I wish I had brought the good 32mm out with me! I'd almost bet you could see this field together in it... No matter. I found the NGC5846 to be a surprisingly bright, circular patch (probably and eliptical) whose charm is a star caught at either edge (one bright, one dim) with a north/south orientation. No particular structure, no pronounced nucleus... Just a very fine small galaxy.

Next in the grouping is to the west and the NGC5813 is it's name. I had left the high power in, so I'm sorry I forgot and cannot tell you if it is visible at low. Again, we have an eliptical, but this one has a bright, concentrated core and some definate fading out towards the edges. Very smooth... Just north west of it is a more difficult small galaxy that was noticed as the field drifted and I would reset the scope. (movement has it's advantages.) The NGC5806 is probably a spiral galaxy, but appears small, faint and very even in structure. No nucleus is present in this observation.

Taking a break, I decided to stretch and walk around for a bit... And noticed the north skies were gone. The clouds have began their steady creep back and conditions were quickly eroding. I looked longingly at Cygus and remembered how beautiful the NGC6940 in Vulpecula is with the 32mm, 2"... But also realized by the time I made the switch in eyepieces, let them stabilize, and actually found it... It would probably be gone. I know there's hours and hours yet until the Moon will rise, but I also know I've traveled a long, hard road for the last week and I'm tired. Vacation is not far away...

And I hope for some clear nights..

"Why do we dream when our thoughts mean nothing?"

July 10/11, 2004 - The Sun and a Little Sagittarius...

Comments: Good ol' sweltering summer days are here again. Being the vampyre means I'm pretty much here during the daylight hours and it's hard put for me to resist being outside in the sunlight. It had been a few days, so I decided I'd take the little Celestron out for a quick stroll on the solar surface. Still not a whole lot going on there. The relatively minor sunspot that was entering the other day is now fully visible and although it is small, it seems to be reasonably complex. Nothing drastic, mind you... Just one that does a bit of shape shifting over its visible pass. I guess the most exciting thing about the Sun right now is the revelation that the two giants that were visible during the end of October and into November (remember the ones that really rocked and caused the great aurora?) are still in the news. Voyager 2 has recorded its shockwaves clear out there at the end of our solar system, and we're all a bit anxious to see what happens next.

Of course, it didn't take long at blistering temperatures for a black telescope to get real unhappy, and so I put it away and opted for a bit of swimming before I went back into work. It felt wonderful, and after a quick nap I went back and a few hours later returned before sundown to cloudy skies again. Didn't matter much to me at that point, because I'm tired... But I had to smile because of all times to pick? My friendly neighborhood farmer has chosen now to harvest the wheat in the east field. Bothersome? Heck, no. When I'm tired I don't really hear very much and I went quickly to sleep listening to the hum of the airconditioner and the chug of the tractor.

When I got back up just shortly before midnight, I was totally surprised to see clear skies. I thought it was supposed to rain tonight! No matter to me... And so I made a fast cup of coffee and decided to use the old Celestron a bit more. Why not the dob? For one, the skies aren't that handsome right now, and my biggest reason is the wheat dust. Even though he finished hours ago, I can taste it in the air and I really don't want it on that fine Meade mirror. So, optically challenged is fine by me!

Never underestimate the beauty that can be revealed with 114mm of aperture. Despite its small size, it will deliver the M19 in all of its squeezed, blue glory. Don't you believe for one second that the M8, with its combination reflection/emission nebulae and open cluster is any less. (ok, well it can be a whole lot more... but i don't complain. ;) Have faith, and know that the M22 and M28 might not resolve out the way you like it to.... But it's still there. Just kick back and enjoy a very faded M20, a crystalline M21, a delightful pass through the M24, and a decent look at the M23 and M25. Although the old Celestron won't resolve out details in the M17? I am just simply happy to have a look at the glowing "Nike Swoosh" once again.

The skies aren't nice enough to go lower, and by the time I looked up towards Cygnus, them clouds were starting back again. I'm not going to crab, because we could sure use some rain about now. A fast hunt for the M11 and I decided that was enough for now. Time for me to put away the scope and water my tomato and jalepeno plants, and sprinkle a bit over the herb garden. I went back in for another cup of coffee and returned to the park bench to watch the sky get swallowed and just dig on the warm, late night temperatures. It won't be terribly long until the nights are cool again and I'll be packing firewood instead of cutting grass. The seasons seem to change faster and faster as I get older... Ever notice that Mr. Wizard?

What a shame we aren't sharing these warm summer nights while we still have them....

"And how do we relight the flame when it's cold?"

July 7-9, 2004 - It's Just My Luck...

Comments: The clouds are here. The clouds are there. The clouds have been off and on again for the last two days. The morning of the 7th, the Moon actually woke me up a bit earlier than I had planned, so I decided I'd get ready and go out and do some observing before I went to work. Shower taken, coffee perkin', dress clothes on... And when I stepped out the door? Poof. Gone. Nothin' but clouds.

Figures, does't it? Just my luck.

So what the hey. I start work early, don't get off until late and still come home to clouds. Fine, then! I'll just have my dinner and go out and swim away the early evening hours. I'm paddling around, having a wonderful time splashing H and watching the here and there stars and I notice one of them is moving. Not taking my eyes off of it, I go back around for my glasses and it turns into an iridium flare. (dandy, superbright one, too!) By the time I fumble my glasses on? It's gone.

Figures, doesn't it. Just my luck.

I finished swimming an hour later. Look round and know it's not worth taking the telescope out for, and call it an early evening. The next day? I sleep a bit later than I really wanted too, and when I get up and gotta' head in right away? Darn right. It's clear.


So I work my tail off, get done early and head back. I figure if nothing else I'm going to get a chance to do some solar observing! I make myself a quick lunch, get the scope out and ready to go... What's on the solar surface today, eh? I know the backside just shot off a CME, maybe from the two pretty ones that were around last time. Could be there's something new! Hah... Nothing.

Just my luck.

Fine then! I do the chores I've ignored while I've worked, fix a fancy supper and go out swimming just as the skies are getting dark. While the water is warm, the air is not and when I've done my laps and covered the pool, those stars are out and shining.

Figures. It's almost 10:00 and it's just my luck that 've got to get up at 4:00.

My philosophy? I'll sleep when I'm dead, thanks. And since I'm not ready for the "ol' dirt nap" just yet, I did take out the old Celestron and do the Nickle Tour for about an hour. It felt pretty good just to look at some old standards like M3, M5, M10, M12, M81, M82, M51, M4, M80, and fight with the mount to find M13. I ain't leavin' until I've seen the M57, M27 and M71 though... And by then I'm right tired. Those temperatures kept right on dropping and those skies just got clearer and clearer. What I wouldn't give if I had the time to have taken the dob out and chased through Lacerta... Or been able to wait on the rising Delphinus and Aquila! Or better yet, to have run through the riches of Saggitarius once again... But, no. I've got to work in the morning.

Figures, doesn't it?

And so off I go, cheefully, to complete my duties. Yet again the vampyre, I watch the sunrise, see clear skies with more light than I want and wake up to clouds when it's dark. I shake my head, go back inside to make coffee and start my night once again, and I see a note taped to my traveling coffee cup. I gotta' smile when I read it, for in large letters is the phrase "A Star Is Born"... Katie Marie has now joined the world and come in at a very healthy 8 pounds, 4 ounces. Ah, the things that happen when one sleeps!! Perhaps one day very soon I shall get to see her, eh? Nothing like finding out your widespread family has grown while you are tied to duty... But I doubt I am the only one who has such a life.

It's just my luck.

"Where do we go when we just don't know?"

July 6, 2004 - Ocie Hill...

Comments: Hey, hey! Time for another public presentation and today was my first experience with the inner-city kids. I know I wasn't particularly happy when the alarm clock went off this morning, but it was nothing a shower and a cup of coffee couldn't cure. We are looking at another fine summer day and as I spin across the warming countryside, I find myself getting psyched up for some more classroom work. I guess you'd really have to do this to understand. You start off reluctant, not really too sure of where you're going to go with what you have to say... Nor what real order you're going to present it in. But what happens is the moment you lay eyes on that first smiling, open face looking to you to teach them something new?

Well, ya' forget all about everything but who you are and what you love to do.

Ocie Hill is, or once was, a public school. Now it is a community center dedicated to learning, social interaction and recreation. A place to be! And what we have a relatively comfortable surroundings filled with furnishings and tables. Just right for a couple of nuts like Curt and I to see if we can't reach out and touch some young lives. The last time AFY gave a presentation here, I was unable to attend due to work, so Curt gave the program and the kids had an opportunity to do some first-hand solar viewing. Now? They want more...

You asked for it? You got it. Happy hands shot up in the air as we "listened" for meteors. Eager little paws reached out to touch pieces of other worlds and little lives are forever changed, if only for a moment, as they reach out to touch my latest edition... A piece of the Moon. They became astronauts on spaceships as they rode out through our own solar system, exploring distances and size. They learned all about light... And how that "rainbow bar code" really works. They went round in "Circles", eager to jump up and particpate. Greg joins us, and brings with him the SVD8. They looked inside a telescope and understood what makes it work. They watched the Venus transit and explored the surface of the Moon through video. What seem like a little ocean of eager hands were held out to receive NASA goodies... And they had fun!

All told, we went through approximately 75 kids of various ages. All of them were wonderful, and more than just a few would amaze you with what they know about astronomy. Rowdy? Well, sure. You can't have youngsters without 'em being youngsters. But amazingly enough?

They listened. They learned. And they laughed.

For now? I am off to enjoy those warm waters again. There's quite a bit of haze to the skies and storms are on their way. It's been a couple of very fine days here in the Heartland and I'm ready to kick back and relax for awhile. There's a cold Corona or two with a twist of lime waiting...

And I've got a shoe. ;)

"I need my serenity... Nothing changes. Days go by..."

July 5, 2004 - Workin' The Field: NGC5981, NGC5982, NGC5985, NGC5879, NGC5866, NGC5907, NGC7026, NGC7048, NGC7027, NGC6886, NGC6879, and NGC6891...

Comments: Another smokin' hot day in Ohio. Does this mean hazy skies? Not necessarily, for the temperatures will drop thirty degrees over night. (yeah, and it will be hotter than hades again tomorrow... ;) When I got home from work, I decided to grab some much needed rest, for I have been burning the candle at both ends. Somewhere near the middle, I decided it was time to blow it our for awhile and thanks to a little muscle and a lot of hustle, managed to arrange for a day off work. Did I do if for astro? Heck no, brother...

I did it for me.

As I waited for it to get dark, I had no real intentions of doing sky studies tonight. Actually, it felt rather good just to coast around lazy in the warm pool waters and I was having some pretty sincere intentions of just going to bed early. That was, of course, until Draco started screaming my name. (remember my name... cuz' you'll be screaming it later. ;) Now, I'm not talking "Oh, look... There's the stars of Draco." ... I'm telling you the stars of Draco walked right out and smacked me in the eye. We've got a high pressure spot sitting right over the top at the moment and when magnitude 6 stars start popping out of the later night skies, there is no way I am going to refuse them. Especially when there appears to be so many of them that I'm wondering if there's constellations out there I don't recognize!

While I dried off, the dob stabilized. Surprisingly enough, a cup of chai tasted pretty good while I studied the maps. Cepheus looked pretty prime, and heavens only knows that Ursa Major still sits fairly decent for study... But I want what's in Draco. Getting my game plan together, I take a brief note of the time (11:00 p.m.) and note the eyepieces I am using (26mm Meade to locate and 12.3mm ED Epic to study) and I am good to go.

Now let's go find them tasty strangers...

First off is a group. The NGC5982 is the edge-on of this trio. Bright, almost stellar core area and definately beautiful. In the center is NGC5982, just another nasty little elliptical "egg" that appears rather plain, with a slight brightening toward the center. Of this grouping, the NGC5985 is definately the show stopper. A very fine spiral structure with a stellar nucleus and classic structure.

Staying roughly in the same sector of sky, the NGC5879 is my next object. Another spiral, but a real beauty with a star caught on its northern edge. Here we have a small, bright nucleus and upon patience and wide aversion, it is possible to see some knot-like brightenings in the outer structure. Very fine! Not far away is NGC5866, our missing Messier 102. It is an object I have viewed before, but it is a very fine one on a dark, clear and steady night like this. Almost like a miniature "Sombrero" galaxy, the NGC5866 will show a fine thread of a central dark dustlane across the face of its bright, and concentrated core.

The last in this area is also one I am pretty sure I have viewed before... It reminds me of you! The NGC5907 is very edge-on, baby... Like a bright scratch of light on a finely starred field, at low power it looks like a bright thread against the night. At high power, there is no real nucleus, just a slight brightening toward the center, but otherwise it looks pretty even. Very impressive!!

By now, I'm ready for a bit of a break. I could feel a little of my old self there for awhile, and I know I was getting pretty intense. Although I didn't look at my watch, I know I've been at it for a least 90 minutes or so, because Cygus is flying right up where it is prime for studies as well. Hunting down a coke and a smoke, I flopped down in the old redwood chair with my maps again and started thinking about what I should work on next. Part of me starts arguing that I should be practicing the "Nickle Tour" for all the public presentations coming up over the next six weeks... But the other half of me says I'm tired of being "fast on the draw" and would just prefer to spend a bit of time doing things slow. I've got awhile yet before the Moon is going to rise and I wanna' go planetary, baby...

Care to join me?

Working my way through Cygnus, my first objective is the NGC7026. I found it to be easy enough, moderately bright with a blinkable central that would show occasssionally a high power with slight aversion. The NGC7048 comes next, and here I find a fairly large planetary, with no central. I cruise past which is probably NGC7039, but only note that I starhopped across a tight knit formation of similar magnitude stars. Instead, I kept moving until I located NGC7027. Very sweet! This one reminds me wholeheartedly of the coloration of the "Eskimo". Definately blue-green in appearance, this small planetary is a real attention getter. There is something very.. Ah, heck... Just say it! There something here that just tells me this one is spectroscopically very hot. It as that "living" quality to its light.

Heading off into Saggitta, I kept smacking my hands not to go toward the very obvious planetary, M27. As much as I appreciate it, and as clear as the night is, (that central would be kickin', dude...) I decline in favour of looking for things... Wellllllll.... Just a little bit out of the ordinary?

Now let's rock...

NGC6886 was a tough one. Almost stellar at low power, I had to confirm and reconfirm the field over and over again. Once confident, I put in the power and found it to be small.... And nearly stellar. At very best, it only appears to be a slightly out of focus stellar point with a nearby double to the north. If you want difficult? Try this one. Almost equally difficult was the NGC6879. Again, we are talking about a planetary that disguises itself as a star to low power. Again, I have to reconfirm field, and all I can say is there is a similar magnitude star to the southwest. Only by looking at this star and tapping the eyepiece slightly, will the NGC6879 reveal its true form. It simply appears like a star that will not achieve crisp focus.

Last for me was actually one worth waiting for. The NGC6891 has an undeniable blue hue to it. Bright and distinguishable as planetary at low power, this one shows a lot more life under magnification. Again, it retains the blue coloration, but appears much larger in structure with the 12.3mm eyepiece. (well, duh!) What really makes it is an direct central star and the appearance of a "halo" in the structure. Very nice and well worth the hunt.

By now, it's getting quite late. I can see the sky beginning to brighten very well to the east and I know it won't be long until the Moon takes over. It's probably there, even as we speak, but I'm not going out of my "shady spot" just to check. It's been a very worthy night, and one well worth staying up late for. I gather up my notes, maps and eyepieces and about half reluctantly cover the dob back up. I tow it back into the garage and as I am about to shut the radio off for the evening, I've got to grin and stand at the door listening to the song as I watch the Moon rise.

And about half tempted just to jump right back in that pool...

"I need my serenity. In a place where I can hide... "

July 4, 2004 - Independence Day...

Comments: Who me? Nah. I'm still a slave to my workplace. But I do have this rather independent "streak" that makes me want to not be trapped in any situation...

So that's why I get up a bit early to astro before I go in on "vampyre" shift, huh?

Alas, it ain't really to be this morning. There's a handful of stars here and there, but it is mostly cloudy. I sit on the parkbench holding my cup of coffee and watching where I knew the Moon would be. Think I'm crazy? No. There is something beautiful in this as well. We have towering cumulus clouds at the moment, and when they are lit from behind, like they are now, they almost look a large as life rendition of the "Pillars Of Creation". (did someone say pillar? hand me one of those, will you? i could definately go right back to sleep.) Once I had made it into work, the combination of time and distance meant the Moon was out and shining. I at least had to go out and smile at it once in while during the night, eh? Looks like it's on the job, too...

By the time I finished, rain was the name of the game. Nothing new for Ohio when it's hot.... So, with that in mind, I found myself a reclining chair, turned on a John Wayne movie, and happily found la-la land by the time the second western came around. When I awoke a few hours later, the Sun was back out and shining. I had thought for a bit about going to a local fair, but the older I get, the less appealing they have become. Instead I chose to mow, and by the time the shadows had grown long, I was ready to toss some shishkabobs on the grill and sit quietly for while. I toasted the sunset with lemon sorbet and as the darkness decended at the stars began to come out to play?

Well, I just went swimming instead of scoping.

There is something rather neat about living on such flat ground. There are many SmallTown, Americas that sit around the horizon. Quiet places with names like Galion, Bucyrus, Mt. Gilead... There are larger ones a bit further away, like where I work... And larger ones still that lay beyond the horizon. You would never even know these towns were there, except when the clouds are low and you can see the distant light domes. After I had done my laps, I reached over the side of the pool and grabbed a corona that I had kept on ice. The time has got to be getting close and I am anxious to see if what I have in mind is going to happen.

And it does. Around about 9:45 the first of the fireworks started. Laughing, I swam to the edge and watched as first this small town, and then that small town had their respective fireworks displays. How awesome it seems to see them! Multicolored rockets and bright splashes of light... And all at different times! I watched for perhaps an hour, and you could see the flashes from the larger towns, like distant explosions. Just too cool... And how I wish you were here to see as well, eh? Quiet reminders of long ago wars...

When they have ended, I celebrate in my own pyro fashion. Like swimming, I guess I'm not ready to get old yet. I am happy to play with my assortment of rockets, knowing H is hiding inside. And I am sure he probably goes catatonic (pun?) when I light the mortar shells, but I love to listen to them launch and explode. There is something exciting about listening to them shoot up, tracing the line of sparks... Then to see them burst into patterns of colored sparks, fading away quickly to reveal the true fireworks of the night... The stars. Distant farmhouses answer in kind, and in the country we celebrate in our own ways...

All free spirits.

"I am the one who holds you... Holds you with my inner child."

July 3, 2004 - Blue Moon...

Comments: "Blue moon... You left me standing alone..." Ooops! Sorry. Didn't know you were here. What was that I was saying? Oh, yeah. Blue moon. Have a look!

Just out playing around with the filters and the full Moon a little bit before I go into work. Hey, did you know this really is a "blue moon" month? Daggone right. There's two of them this month... Tonight and again on the 31st. And when there's two in one month? The second (you caught that, huh? ;) is know as "Blue moon... You left me standing alone...". Ooops. There I go again, huh? Sorry. I get a little bit weird around the edges when I work vampyre shift. You gotta' love it in blue, though... It makes the bright features, like Tycho, seem much easier to look at... But it makes those shadows dark and cool. And heavens only know we could could handle some dark, cool shadows in Ohio right now! Ah, well... The full Moon sure looks pretty tonight. Perhaps if it's out again before I go back into work again tomorrow I shall check it out with violet filter. It makes the bright features really "cool" to look at! For now? Wishing you a fine night under the "stars and stripes"!

And I am outta' here...

"I'm the one in your soul... Reflecting inner light."

July 1, 2004 - Sunnin'... And Just Watchin' The Moon...

Comments: It's summer here in Ohio. No doubts about it. The heat of the day meant there were piles of grey clouds on the horizon, and even when they started to clear the haze came round. I had pretty much spent the entire day swimming, for I could use the excercise and the solar rays. At one point, I got curious as to whether or not there were any new sunspots, so I sat the trusty old Celestron out for a look. Guess what? Just one rather ordinary looking sunspot... And one tiny one.

Back in the pool.

After about five hours or so, I knew I had reached my sun toleration limit and hid inside. By the time night fell, I was ready to go back out again. Making slow and steady laps around the pool, I listened to the radio play softly and watched the stars shine through the holes in the clouds. You would think at my age I would have tired by now, but I never tire of swimming. Lazily floating around in circles, I'd look up and whisper the names of the stars to myself. Deneb... Vega... Albeiro... Dubhe... Ras Algethi... Cor Caroli... Polaris... Regulus... Spica... Antares... It gives me peace, you know? I just turn off my head.

I might think I turn off the switches, but I guess once someone has enabled them they never quite go away. It's always there.... Like a shadow in the back of my mind. Like the lengthening shadows of the tree-line and the brilliant orange, swollen presentation of the rising Moon. I know that most astronomer's think she's ugly. But not me... What does it matter if she's fat and old? Just look at all she has to offer! There is beauty there, if you care to look. Mare Crisium... Mare Frigorus, Mare Tranquilitatus, Mare Nectaris, Oceanus Procellarum, Mare Humorum... They seem so dimensional when she is damped down like this. From her rugged southern highlands, to the smooth seas and ancient features of the north, the Moon is the beautiful companion of the night.

Roche dessus, lune de soeur...

"As I sit here and slowly close my eyes... I take another deep breath and feel the wind pass through my body."